Obama Appoints Judith McHale Chief U.S. Image-Maker

The White House appoints Judith McHale as under secretary for public diplomacy.


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

I mused last week about the possibility/wisdom of President Obama appointing a Muslim to be under secretary for public diplomacy, the country's chief image specialist. Instead, the administration announced last night that the post will go to Judith McHale, former president of Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel, and a booster of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Here's the bio that the White House sent out:

Ms. McHale is a leading media and communications executive whose career has been devoted to building companies and non-profit organizations dedicated to reaching out to and connecting people around the world. She is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Communications. From 1987 to 2006, McHale helped build the parent company of the Discovery Channel into one of the world's most extensive media enterprises, with more than 100 channels telecast in over 170 countries and 35 languages to more than 1 billion subscribers. In the 1990s, McHale launched the non-profit Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, which supplies free educational video programming to more than half a million students across Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. After two decades at Discovery, McHale extended her commitment to helping build opportunity for people in Africa. With the Global Environment Fund, a private equity firm, she worked to launch the GEF/Africa Growth Fund, an investment vehicle intending to focus on supplying expansion capital to small and medium-sized businesses that provide consumer goods and services in emerging African markets. McHale's commitment to global outreach efforts also includes her service on the boards of the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the National Democratic Institute, and Vital Voices. She previously served on the board of Africare. The daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, McHale was born in New York City and grew up in Britain and apartheid-era South Africa. Before joining Discovery, McHale served as General Counsel for MTV Networks and helped guide the company's international expansion.

Foreign Policy blogger Marc Lynch has called McHale a " terrible, terrible selection," arguing that she lacks diplomatic experience:

Appointing someone with no experience in public diplomacy but with a resume which "involves selling a message" has already been tried: the first post-9/11 Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers, whose tenure lasted only 17 months (October 2001-March 2003), focused on "branding" America through television advertising showing happy Muslim-Americans, and is generally considered to be an utter failure.

Much of McHale's job will be improving America's image in the Muslim world, and it will be interesting to follow her approach after the failures of George W. Bush's public diplomacy chiefs to make headway in that department.